A place for the writings and the ideas of the people in and around (and coming to the attention of) the Ridenbaugh Press.

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The Idaho state Republicans have opened several local field offices, evidently for the duration of the campaign season, in Lewiston, Moscow and Hailey, and according to reports, another is planned in west Boise.

The latter is only a few miles away from state party headquarters in downtown Boise. These new offices do have something in common: They are located in most of those few places in Idaho where competitive legislative races are underway. (The Democrats may be setting up shop a little more informally.)

Not much of Idaho is really up for grabs in this year’s election, partly because most districts in Idaho are too partisan-lopsided to allow for close races; but there are a few. It’s also possible some other races could start to spark. Only about 80 days are left, but even in Idaho the unpredictable can happen.

Closest thing to ground zero for serious competition right now, again in this cycle as before, is district 15, where the two House Republican incumbents, Lynn Luker and Patrick McDonald, are being challenged heavily by Democrats Steve Berch – his third hard-charging run in this district – and Jake Ellis, both raising and spending money comparable to the incumbents. Up to now, Republicans have won every time out in this west Boise district, but the margins have shrunk, and the outcome of these races is hard to predict.

The districts based around Moscow and Lewiston have been among the most competitive in recent years, and two years ago the House Democratic leader, John Rusche, won re-election at Lewiston by 50 votes. No one is taking any votes for granted in these places – Districts 5 and 6. While the Senate seats here do look set for incumbent re-elections, the four House races all show signs of being competitive.

The unusual spot for a Republican local office is Hailey, the Blaine County seat which is almost as solidly Democratic as any community in Idaho – and taken together with Ketchum, maybe more than any. The legislative delegation from this area has been mostly Democratic for a generation.

But while the district includes the Democratic Wood River Valley it also includes more Republican territory reaching out to Shoshone, Fairfield, Gooding and Wendell, and the Democratic advantage is not enormous. One of the House seats is now occupied by Republican Steve Miller, and the other, held for a dozen years by Democrat Donna Pence, is now (with her retirement) open. Democrat Sally Toone of Gooding seems reasonably well positioned to keep the seat blue (Pence is her campaign manager), but Republicans seem to be taking seriously the opportunity an open seat is giving them, and Alex Sutter, a businessman at Richfield, may be a strong prospect.

These are not the only significant legislative races in Idaho this year, of course. Sometimes political explosions come out of nowhere, as in last week’s instance of state Senator Jim Guthrie, R-Inkom, and Representative Christy Perry, R-Nampa, after news media reports that the two married legislators had an affair. Both are on the ballot in November and, partly because both live in solidly Republican districts, seemed to be headed toward re-election. Now their races have become harder to measure.

This doesn’t look like an especially competitive year, and the roster of Idaho legislative candidates hasn’t produced a large list of fascinating candidates. But sometimes races take on interest when something new happens, and candidates look more interesting in hindsight, when you see what they’ve accomplished.

We’re heading into the home stretch.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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One of the online places political junkies get their fix – it’s really hard to stay away for long – is the fivethirtyeight.com web site and especially its election forecast section.

There are other polling analysis sites around the web, but 538, led by the remarkable statistician Nate Silver, is the most sophisticated. Most prominently it has a section showing, based on current information, how the candidates for president are doing. It updates the information whenever a new data point becomes available, which may be several times in a day, or even several times in an hour. Every time I check back in, it seems to have changed. And there’s more: The site offers three rounds of current estimates, the “now cast,” which estimates who probably would win and by how much if the election were held now; the “poll only,” which analyzes polls and nothing else; and the “polls-plus,” which adds in economic, historic and other factors.

As I write this, 538 estimates Democrat Hillary Clinton has an 86.3% chance of beating Republican Donald Trump, according to “polls only.” The number will change, up or down, by the time you read this.

538 also breaks down the probability estimates by state. As I write this, the odds Trump will win Idaho have been calculated – polls-only – at 96.3%. It is the third highest probability of a Trump win in the country, behind only West Virginia and (in first place) Oklahoma (at 98.7%). The polls-plus probability of a Trump win in in Idaho in November hit 99.1%, which is almost as close to a certainty as 538 gets, while the now-cast (if the election were held today) is at 98.2%. The now-cast estimates that in Idaho, Trump would get 54.6% of the vote, Clinton 35.7% and Libertarian Gary Johnson 7.8%.

You can see a consistent pattern here.

Some states, especially many of the battlegrounds, are polled frequently, but Idaho isn’t, which creates an obstacle for analysts like 538. They’re relying in large part on three polls from Dan Jones & Associates.

Polling analysts put a lot of attention into not so much the snapshots that individual polls can generate, but the trend lines – are numbers rising or falling over time – and comparisons between pollsters, when those are available. In Idaho, those numbers have been mostly stable all year.

Idaho’s neighboring states have been a little more variable, swinging around significantly during July (the month of conventions) in blue Washington and Oregon, red Utah and Montana (though not red Wyoming, which stayed stable) and purple Nevada. In the first couple of weeks of August, however, all have begun to settle into familiar patterns.

The most interesting of the neighbors – in the possibility it might break from familiar patterns – is Utah. Utah actually has been polled with some regularity this year, and by several pollsters. Trump is given an 80% probability (polls only) of winning it, but that’s far less than Idaho or Wyoming. At 80% probability, you have an operating assumption that Trump will take the state, but the chance of an upset is not completely off the charts. Put another way, the chance Trump may lose Utah is greater than the chance that he wins the November election. If he did lose Utah, might that affect the Idaho percentages in reflection of how the large LDS vote might turn?

Utah is one of several western states of interest, in having polling numbers that force both parties to keep a wary eye on them. Nevada and Arizona are near-battlegrounds, Colorado is in the gray area for battleground status, and party activists might be wise to keep an eye on Montana, where Trump has a probability of winning now sitting at 76%, which is less than secure.

For the time being, though, after all the post-convention talk about changes in the races, Idaho still looks pretty well locked down.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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The state Department of Labor last week released a statistic that policy makers might want to wrap their minds around, as a significant broad-brush indicator about Idaho and a question to ponder as they consider what sort of state Idaho should be.

Consider the people who graduate from Idaho colleges and universities, one year after graduation. (The study was conducted of graduates from 2010 to 2014.)

Of those former students who were in-state residents, about 77 percent stayed in the state, “working in Idaho jobs.” The report said “The other 23 percent of in-state graduates either left to work in another state, took a federal government job, joined the military or worked in some other kind of self-employment category. In some cases, they may still be looking for work in their field, continuing on to graduate school or to another educational program.”

Five years later, about 67 percent still were in the state.

Of those who were out of state students, just 39 percent stayed in the state after one year, and just 28 percent five years later. (“Out of state” students were those considered non-residents at the time they entered the college of university, whether or not they became Idaho residents during the time of their studies.)

That’s a big gap, about two to one. What would account for it?

As an out of stater when I first came to the University of Idaho, but who stayed in Idaho long afterward, the question and the results hit home.

The department speculated that family or other ties may be part of what keeps many of those in-state students in place. That may be about right. The study added, “Other factors include types of degrees and programs offered. Some degrees and programs are highly marketable all over the country and the world, making those students more mobile and attractive to employers outside Idaho. Geographic location of the institution is another factor. Some colleges and universities are located in college towns, closer to bordering states where students are more likely to take their degrees to other more economically viable cities outside of the state. And, some postsecondary institutions are already located in thriving and growing economic urban hubs, creating local and immediate job opportunities for graduates eager to enter the workforce.”

The fact that Eastern Idaho Technical College and the College of Southern Idaho, both located in areas relatively far from metro areas and where the student population may be especially based from the local area, tends to back up that idea.

What the institutions aren’t doing as much, which probably is happening in other places and might be useful in Idaho, is not only drawing in but retaining talented students from other states. The students are coming – lower costs at the Idaho institutions may be one reason – but they’re not staying.

Why isn’t Idaho keeping those students? Is it a lack of jobs, or is there some other major consideration?

That might usefully be the subject of a future DOL report: For that large majority of students who come but don’t stay in Idaho, why aren’t they sticking around?

Idaho might benefit from the answer to that question.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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Six months ago, and six months from now, the Idaho Legislature was and will be getting into gear, reviewing budgets and rule and bill proposals.

And while that will look like the busy season, a lot of what they do actually has its origins in work being done now, in the quiet time, in the middle of summer. When our political attention is drawn mostly to the national party conventions. When it would seem, to judge from most headlines, that little governmental action is really ongoing.

In fact, a stroll around the Capitol Mall about now probably would give you the impression that the times in state government are fairly sleepy.

But not really. A good deal of legislative prep work is underway, for example, in legislative interim committees. The Public School Funding Committee (discussing one of the biggest topics in almost any legislative session) met on July 12, the committee on health care alternatives (as hot a topic as any) met July 21, the panel on state employee benefits will meet August 3 and the children at risk committee meets August 4.

These committees and a bunch of others will shape some of the key legislation in the 2017 session. A lot of interim legislative activities are held in the summer (they’re being set up in the spring, and fall meeting dates are often a problem in campaign season).

July 1 is an important state government date. It is the default date for new laws to take effect, which means switching over and evaluation in a number of areas. It also is the dividing line between fiscal years, the point when the books are closed on the old year, and revenue analysis has to begin for the new one.

Partly for that same reason, budget work starts to get underway in midsummer. State agencies are supposed to receive a budget manual in July, and submit their requests either this month or in August. You won’t see the results, not publicly, until after the new year, but the groundwork is beginning to be laid even now.

You’ll hear more about state administrative rules when the legislature reviews them in January, but a lot of the crunch work is underway now – in the period well after the legislature adjourns, but well before (allowing for publication and other schedules) the legislature returns. Because of the legislature’s intensive review of the rules, the window for actually developing and reviewing them is relatively short, at the other end of the year.

And many state boards and commissions hold summer meetings, which in some cases are among the most critical meetings of the annual cycles; partly because of those budget and rulemaking considerations. The Fish & Game Commission met July 6, the Idaho Workforce Development Council on July 14, the state Land Board and Board of Corrections on July 19, and the Water Resource Board and Oil and Gas Commission on July 21 – just to cite a few examples from so far this month.

Of course, regional and local governments continue on through the year as well, and they too have budgeting and other considerations that keep them busy over the summer.

It may be vacation season for many people, but that doesn’t mean nothing’s happening. Quite the contrary.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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Did it come as something of a shock to the executives at Micron Technology when one of the leading research universities in the world, Harvard, decided to file suit against it?

The question is a little generic, since the suit filed on June 24 apparently came after Harvard had sent letters and other communications. But the more non-specific answer – which Micron hasn’t given; it has not said much about the case – may tell something about the larger issue of patents and their sometimes sweeping impact.

The case arose after Micron and another company, GlobalFoundries (which also is in Harvard’s legal sights) began using a new technology which allows for placing extremely thin metal films on other substances, which can expand the reach of computing possibilities. We don’t yet know whether Micron or GF would argue they independently came up with the process, or whether they would contend it is different from others. But Harvard said that it is the same as one developed by a team led by one of its professors, Roy G. Gordon, in the late 1990s and early in the next decade.

On becoming aware Micron was using what it thought was the same approach, Harvard said it “reached out to each of the companies outside of the context of litigation and invited them to engage in good faith licensing discussions. The companies have refused to engage and have, so far, continued their infringement without licensing rights to use the patented technology.”

Patent law, or the use of it, has been changing in the last few decades, and concerns about it have been growing as well. The popular conception of patents probably relates to the classic entrepreneurial inventor in the home basement who’s come up with a brilliant new mousetrap, and wants to make sure someone else doesn’t steal his great idea. Or, at least, that he can benefit from it. The idea is to encourage invention, and also to encourage the use of the invention to benefit society. Many patents are now held by large organizations, developed by people who work for them.

Harvard’s statement on the new lawsuit said it “recognizes that the public’s interest may be best served in some circumstances by the application of legal protection to the innovations of Harvard inventors so that these technologies may be developed into useful products.” If reading that makes you feel like you’ve looped around the curves of a pretzel, you may not be alone.

Also this: “The Gordon laboratory’s research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation. The Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, a federal law, enables universities to hold patents on federally funded research and to participate in technology transfer activities that help ensure inventions become useful products that benefit society. Harvard invests significant resources into research infrastructure and activities, technology development, and the cost of filing and maintaining patents.”

A question may be coming to mind, which Harvard also usefully posed in its statement: “If Harvard intends groundbreaking technologies to make an impact in the world, why file suit against companies that are making use of the technology?” The answer was that unlicensed use of the technology “can devalue the contributions and efforts of researchers who have often devoted their careers to solving important technological challenges.”

In a purely financial way, maybe. But that seems to be the limits of what much of patent law is about these days. The forthcoming legal replies from Micron will be worth watching.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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Take none of what follows as a prediction, but I will say this: The Northwest is home to the single most logical vice presidential pick in the country, in either party.

I eliminate the Donald Trump-Republican side here, because I have no idea who the most logical vice presidential nominee there might be. (For a host of reasons, not Senator Mike Crapo, who made a list of prospects by columnist Ann Coulter.)

On the Hillary Clinton-Democratic side, the calculus is easier, and by combining assets and liabilities Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley rises toward the top. He is not among the most-mentioned names, but all of those better-knowns come with problems attached. The choice of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren would thrill some people but would stir new controversy (the two-woman ticket) while putting her Senate seat at partisan risk at a time when Democrats have hopes of retaking the Senate. That same Senate problem applies to Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, who’s close to the Clintons, has financial and other issues and would aggravate the Bernie Sanders contingent. Sanders himself is a non-starter, as Clinton has made clear, not least because he has not worked in the party vineyards. Other prospects have little or no serious experience as a candidate for high office.

Merkley was the only senator to endorse Sanders, which made him beloved within that contingent, but he did that without trashing Clinton, who he has since endorsed. Picking Merkley would be a signal from Clinton that she can overcome her issues of insularity, and expand her enthusiasm quotient on the left. (Of coursse, if she’s as insular as reputed, Merkley’s Sanders link would be a disqualifer.) The risks would be small. Merkley is a loyal Democrat, has run as such since his first election to the Oregon House in 1998, and has helped other Democratic campaigns.

In demeanor, he has a low-key, “aw-shucks” manner (in person he comes across more like Crapo than an of the others in the Idaho delegation) which would neatly balance Clinton’s presentation, but he’s also a skilled speaker and debater. He rose quickly into Oregon House of Representatives leadership, and showed political chops by leading the campaign effort that switched control of the chamber from Republican to Democratic ad made him speaker. Like Oregon’s other senator, Ron Wyden, he’s held town halls in every county in the state each year he’s been in the Senate (he’s now in his second term). His background, as he routinely reminds Oregonians, is as the son of a Myrtle Creek mill worker, and his interest in practical economics grows out of that.

If elected as vice president, Oregonians would choose his replacement in a special election. Given Oregon’s politics, Democrats probably would not have to worry about losing the seat.

His easy manner led many Oregon Democrats to figure him for an unambitious centrist, and he has cooperated with a variety on other senators on sundry issues, including Idaho’s Republicans on regional topics like wildfire prevention. He also, however, has been a liberal activist on economic and other issues (his highest national profile probably has been on the subject of filibuster reform) which is why the Sanders backers would approve of him.

What few Oregonians probably know, and Merkley seldom mentions, is that he has a strong foreign relations and defense background as well. After a stretch in the office of (Republican) Senator Mark Hatfield, Merkley worked for a variety of international non-profit and other organizations around the world, spending time in Ghana, Mexico, Italy, India and elsewhere. After that he became a presidential management fellow at the Department of Defense, working in Caspar Weinberger’s administrative offices on defense process and strategy. And after that, at the Congressional Budget Office as a nuclear arms analyst. He discusses defense and foreign relations policy with ease.

Merkley’s name, as a veep prospect, has come up so far only on the periphery, and to reiterate, I make no predictions here. But the case for hism is strong enough that you shouldn’t be shocked if you hear it again.

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Idaho Idaho column Oregon Stapilus

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Brad Little, Idaho’s lieutenant governor since January 2009, has filed paperwork toward a run for governor in 2018. In doing that, he has finally done what some observers expected he would in 2014 or even as far back as 2010.

No need now, he was quoted in one news report, to be coy about it any more, which makes definitive that the incumbent governor who appointed him, C.L. “Butch” Otter, will not try for a fourth term. Running for governor, or one of the top offices, has been more or less eventually expected of Little for many years. Even when he was in the state Senate, and before that when he rebuffed suggestions he run for this or that, there was the sense that he would one day be a contender for top-rank office in the state.

Brad Little comes from one of the major Idaho pioneer families, for three decades running his family’s large ranching operations based at Emmett. He has been an actual cowboy – the real thing, not a rodeo enthusiast but a working cattleman. Years ago during a backcountry drive I paused for refreshment at one of the bars at Yellow Pine, and watched as a gaggle of dirty, tired, ragged cattle hands burst in through the door – Brad Little in the middle of them, one of the gang. You’d not easily have picked him out as the corporate and political figure in Boise he also was even then. Or guessed at the scope of self-education and contacts he’s developed, the variety of perspectives he’s absorbed.

He is a more complex figure than most Idahoans probably realize. His profile as lieutenant governor for the last six-plus years has been defined as a rigorous Otter loyalist. He will no doubt have Otter’s support in the coming campaign, and – as the campaign treasurer appointment of Vicki Risch, wife of Senator Jim Risch, should make clear – that of most of the Republican establishment as well. To tag Little as simply providing another term of Otter would be wrong and unfair given his own capabilities, though that is likely how his opposition will describe him.

And there will be opposition. Two names at least have been circulating for quite a while: Representative Raul Labrador and former state Senator Russ Fulcher, who lost the Republican primary – after a hot and spirited contest – to Otter in 2014. Labrador has been mentioned as a prospect almost as long as he’s been in the House, though he may be more likely to continue settling in there than to uproot for the statehouse. Fulcher appears to have kept in touch with his support base, and could be well positioned to renew his campaign if he decides to give it another go.

The governor’s office doesn’t come open all that often, and it almost certainly will be contested.

For the moment, however, Little has good positioning for it, for at least two reasons.

One, taking a tip from Otter’s campaign approach, he effectively announced early. Otter did that in his first run for governor and hoovered up most of the money and support available. Jim Risch, who was seriously considering a run for the job too, finally backed off. Little may be a formidable contender before 2018 even arrives.

Second, if he has to fill in the political role Otter has played, that may not be a liability. Otter, after all, decisively won in 2014 in the face of serious opposition. Little might well be able to appeal to many of those elements that gave Otter his third term.

In 2014, Little was challenged in the Republican primary directly from the Fulcher wing of the party, and defeated Idaho County Commissioner Jim Chmelik with just over two-thirds of the vote. He will not be easy to defeat.

But challenged he almost surely will be, and now the campaign is on.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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The Twin Falls incident that blew up around the world actually went something like this.

On June 2 at the city’s Fawnbrook Apartments, a five year old girl encountered three boys, ages seven, 10 and 14. The older two were natives of Sudan, and the youngest from Iraq. One of the younger two is believed to have physically touched the girl, but the incident mainly seemed to have centered around humiliating her. A video of the incident was shot, police were called and responded soon after. The two older boys were taken into policy custody. Not many more details were released by authorities because records in juvenile cases generally are kept under wraps.

It was a sad event, maybe traumatic for the girl. But compare the facts – laid out clearly by Twin Falls Prosecutor Grant Loebs and Twin Falls law enforcement – with the accounts many people first heard.

For many people, that first report came in the form of a Drudge Report headline, “REPORT: Syrian ‘Refugees’ Rape Little Girl at Knifepoint in Idaho.” Variations of that headline, with short unsourced stories to match, shot around the Internet for days before reality set in.

To underline it: There were no Syrians involved; no Syrians have even been settled in the Twin Falls area through the (highly controversial) refugee programs. Whether the boys were refugees is not clear (albeit possible). There was no rape. There was not even a knife. The only part of that headline that was true is that the incident purportedly referred to occurred in Idaho.

Since this was a Drudge headline, I wouldn’t necessarily have expected any better. But some actual news organizations picked up on the report and also posted it online, making the situation worse.

According to the Twin Falls Times News, some versions of the story had the boys’ parents celebrating the attack. That wasn’t true either, but it apparently was enough to get at least one of the families involved evicted from their rental residence. There were also loud claims that law enforcement was slow in responding and local authorities were engaging in a coverup. Also not true.

How did this happen? Loebs suggested that “There is a small group of people in Twin Falls County whose life goal is to eliminate refugees, and thus far they have not been constrained by the truth.” Based on the way the story developed and spread, that seems likely.

But let’s expand this a little, because we may be back in this area again.

Please: Don’t be too quick to believe what you hear – especially if it supports your bias.

Or, in the old cautionary aphorism of the professional group Investigative Reporters and Editors: If your mother says she loves you, check it out.

Okay, maybe the second one was a little harsh: You may already have plenty of good evidence for believing that proposition. But the point is reasonable. At least pause to ask what sources there are for a given piece of information (in the case of at least some of the early articles on the assault, none were cited).

Too much of what you see online, or hear on radio or television simply isn’t true but does have the primary effect of tearing communities apart and turning neighbor against neighbor. Don’t let that happen. Again.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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The elections of 1992 were mostly good for Democrats around the country but overall excellent for Republicans in Idaho – in spite of a drastic drop in the GOP vote for president.

There’s a thought here worth unpacking during this campaign of 2016.

In the last half-century Idaho’s electoral votes for president not only haven’t been in doubt, but have been in landslide territory for Republicans nearly every cycle. If you consider the 1976 vote for Gerald Ford among the landslides (and at 59.9%, it’d be churlish not to), then only two elections in all those years stand out: To a lesser degree 1996, when Robert Dole won 52.2% (to 33.6% for Bill Clinton) and to a greater degree in 1992, when George H.W. Bush won Idaho with 42% (to Clinton’s 28.4%).

That 42% was the lowest percentage a Republican has gotten for president in Idaho – even though it was enough to win the state’s electoral votes – since 1936.

That also was the big year, of course, for independent Ross Perot, who caught the attention and support of a lot of Idahoans. Perot’s support, in Idaho at least, came mostly out of the Republican side, and drove down Bush’s percentage. (The same thing happened to a lesser degree four years later to Dole.)

To be clear here: The decline in Republican percentage in Idaho did not result in an uptick on the Democratic side. Clinton’s percentage in Idaho also was unusually low even for a Democrat. And Republicans did very well that year down the ballot, though the legislature and courthouses.

But Perot surely was not the only reason Bush’s numbers cratered in Idaho that year. It also had to do with the relative level of actual enthusiastic support. And the early 90s was a period when a kind of predecessor to today’s in-GOP insurgency was beginning to become active in Idaho, not to today’s extent but enough to shake up thinking and alignments among a lot of Republicans.

There was some subtlety to it. Idaho’s Republican establishment was solidly behind Bush; there was little visible Idaho activity in support of his in-party critics like Pat Buchanan. The Perot activism was genuinely grass roots; it seemed to grow in part from Republicans who were interested in sending a message to Bush, and to the Republican establishment.

If some of this is starting to sound a little familiar, there’s a reason: Those factors from back then may be a lot stronger now.

The dissatisfaction among Republicans with Bush (over the broken “no new taxes” pledge, for example) was real but low-level, not much surfacing. The dissatisfaction among a lot of Republicans this year with Donald Trump is much greater. In various ways he was all but ignored at the state Republican convention, an unheard-of slight, drastically different from past presidential elections.

A Dan Jones & Associates poll of Idaho voters released in the last few days shows Trump at 49% to 32% for Democrat Hillary Clinton. The Clinton number isn’t far from what you might expect, but the Trump number is unusually low for what you’d think a Republican nominee would pull.

Is there an opening for some third candidate (such as the Libertarian Party ticket, which has two unusually strong contenders running) to do what Perot did 24 years ago? We may see.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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Dogs that don’t bark in the night-time tend not to get as much attention as those that do.

Same with political conventions.

The 2014 Idaho Republican convention got plenty of media splash, and for reasons that made party leaders grimace. That was a convention that ran on ground so bitter that much of its basic, normal work could not be done, and it adjourned in chaos. And led to lawsuits and worse, even a dispute about who was or wasn’t the state party chair.

This year’s convention, held in Nampa a week ago, saw none of that. It ran quietly and smoothly, saw the approval of party leaders – re-election without dispute of those in place – and of party platform and resolutions, with only the mildest of argument. It was closer to the way conventions were run 20 or 30 years ago, apart from the lack of enthusiasm for the presidential nominee.

Not that it was entirely an era of good feelings; new ideas were largely blocked and the platform was simply that of 2012. But it still ran far smoother than 2014.

Some of that may have to do with care and effort on the part of some of the party leaders. But some other factors were almost surely involved too.

One was the relative lack of a big rift within the party. Obviously, the Idaho Republican Party was home to plenty of legislative primary battles, concluded only a few weeks ago. But these were local and generally small in scale, and in many cases specific personalities were key to the battles involved. While both U.S. House members had in-party challenges, they didn’t come to much, and many voters probably were surprised even to see the extra names on the ballot. Almost all of the real conflict was at the legislative level, and these conflicts didn’t much spill over from district to district, or around the state.

If you were a delegate from, say, Pocatello, the recent intense battles in several legislative races up in the Panhandle would have little resonance for you. There were no big sweeping bases for opposition.

In 2014, the Idaho Republican Party seemed to contain two parties in one – the insurgents and the establishment. it involved not just local races, but many of the statewide and even congressional races, and the rhetoric involved in those contests periodically ran hot. And when the establishment won the primary, the insurgents were left fuming, and had no outlet for their anger, until the convention met. Little wonder the convention that followed a battle ground.

I have to wonder if there was another aberrational factor this year, too, by the name of Donald Trump.

Trump surely had supporters in Idaho; in the presidential primary earlier this year he came in second and won a bunch of counties in the center of the state. But Idaho’s Republican establishment hasn’t exactly attached itself to him.

One story in the Spokane Spokesman-Review noted that at the convention, “When delegates were urged to rally behind Trump at the close of their morning floor session on Saturday, only a few waved signs and the cheers were noticeably muted.”

When Representative Raul Labrador was asked for his thoughts about Trump, he responded, “It’s a beautiful day in Idaho, isn’t it?”

At this year’s Idaho convention, there was plenty of willingness to get along with one’s neighbors. Maybe they were encouraged in that process by the sounds of unexpected and fearsome creatures outside the doors.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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Idaho voters over the years have had a hand in reshaping or founding several important state agencies, from the Department of Water Resources to the reapportionment commission. But the Department of Fish & Game may be the most voter-impacted of all.

The dispute ongoing now, involving two Fish & Game commissioners – Mark Doerr of Kimberly and Will Naillon of Challis – who were not reappointed by Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, makes for a direct reflection on some of that.

Idaho has had fishing and hunting rules since its early territorial days; the first were set in 1864, banning big game hunting for a period from February to July. But those rules were on the honor system. No one enforced fish or game law until after statehood, when in 1899 the Fish & Game Department was first created and a game warden was hired. (Maybe there’s an indicator here: Idaho is among the states referring to “game” in its agency name, while most other nearby states, such as Washington, Oregon, California, Montana and Utah, refer to “wildlife”.)

That early agency was under direct political control, meaning that governors appointed the executives and oversaw the staff, and legislatures directly set much of the policy. Not many years passed before complaints began to surface. As early as 1911 the state Game Warden, Frank Kendall, advised “placing the fish and game department of Idaho on a scientific basis and in order to do so we must have men who have made this a study and are familiar with the needs and requirement of this line of work, regardless of political affiliations, and to this end I would recommend … we place the men who are directly in the fish and game department under a civil service ruling and retain them as long as they do good work.”

Sportsmen’s groups started calling for the same thing, pressing the legislature to upgrade the state fish and game efforts. Lobbying over a span of 25 years by Idaho’s many hunters and fishers got them nowhere.

In 1938 they mobilized to place on the ballot their proposal, placing fish and game under control of a commission and requiring that officers hold and keep their jobs based on merit. At a time when suspicion of government expansion was not so different from now across much of Idaho, the initiative passed with 76 percent of the vote. That measure set the framework for the Department of Fish & Game still in place today.

Nothing in government can ever truly be “taken out of politics,” and in the broad sense shouldn’t be – that would mean the public has no input, no control. And there’s often some tension between what various people in the public, and sometimes their elected officials, want and what the fish and game department and commission do. But the measure of independence usually has been seen as a plus.

In 1995, new Governor Phil Batt asked for letters of resignation of the commissioners; he had wanted the departure of the then-director, Jerry Conley, and a number of policy changes. A statewide eruption ensued, and Batt dropped his request for the resignations.

He later told Idaho Public Television, “I found out that was a mistake, I apologized for it, and since that time I have never tried to influence any decision of the Fish and Game Commission. I don’t think that I should. I do think that we all have to work together for the good of the State of Idaho, I’ve impressed that on them many a time, but I’ve never tried to tell them what they have to do or what they can’t do.”

The tension is always there. Doerr and Naillon could tell you about that.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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One of the hazards of punditry is a tendency to wrap things up in a neat package – a nice simple conclusion and overview of what usually was a messier reality.

Last week I pointed out a trend line in the recent Idaho primary election, in which relatively “establishment conservative” candidates, some challengers and others incumbents, tended to do better in seriously contested races than the more ideological insurgents. As a broad-picture view, I still think that was a reasonable take.

But a series of communications from the field over the last week reminded me that elections are a more complex thing than one simple trend line will allow. Why did someone win or lose? The reasons may be many, and the big picture might be only a piece of the story. And maybe not so big a piece.

One of the key primary contests was in District 15, in western Boise, where incumbent Patrick McDonald was challenged by Rod Beck, a veteran of legislative campaigns. Beck has been allied with the more insurgent side of the party, and McDonald with the more establishment conservatives (he got primary backing from Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, Senator Jim Risch and others). The race fit within the overall trend.

But there was more to it than that. One caller pointed out that McDonald and other Republicans in the district organized hard and pursued door-knocking intensively, even trying to visit every registered Republican in the district several times. That as much as other considerations probably paid off on election day.

In District 23, centered around Elmore County, Republican voters tossed out both incumbent House members – Pete Nielsen, given to viral quotes and sort of a member of the insurgent side, but also the much less controversial Rich Wills, backed by more establishment conservatives like Otter. Nielsen’s loss fit within the framework, but people who have watched the race develop note that personal and campaigning factors played a role there. Why did Wills lose? I suspect one factor is that he was pulled in by the undertow; when Nielsen got only 22.1% of the vote, and Wills lost with 44.9%, it’s easy to suspect a spillover effect was involved. But so too may have been a strong campaign from Wills’ opponent, Christy Zito.

Then there’s the case of Ron Nate of Rexburg, who narrowly survived a challenge from Doug Ricks. Ricks was a newly-minted candidate, but he was well positioned. Like Nate he worked at Brigham Young University-Idaho, and his father is the veteran former state senator and Lieutenant Governor Mark Ricks, a significant figure among establishment Republicans; Otter endorsed the younger Ricks in the primary. Nate was top-ranked in the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s “Freedom Index,” which loosely helps measure where you’re at on the insugent-establishment scale. A high rank like Nate’s marks you as an insurgent, and Ricks’ campaign zeroed in on Nate’s opposition to school spending bills and other insurgent causes.

The result was close; Nate won with 51.6%, a thin lead for an incumbent. But he didn’t come across like many of the insurgents from, say, northern Idaho. His language and tone seemed lower-key (befitting the Rexburg ethos).

And the insurgent side did score a few wins, even taking out a couple of legislators (Merrill Beyeler from Leadore and Paul Romrell from St. Anthony).

Overall, I think the initial impression of what happened stands. But there’s also a lot more to see in the details.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus